With Whiplash, director Damien Chazelle has created a tense, thrilling film that explores how far one is willing to go to achieve success in a competitive, merciless market.
The film is centered on an ambitious drummer, Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) and his trials and tribulations at one of the country’s best music schools under the tutelage of Mr. Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). Teller and Simmons provide two of the best performances of 2014, essential to the emotion of the film.
Fletcher is often abusive to his students: shouting slurs, slapping them in the face, and even throwing chairs at them. These are all examples of Fletcher’s “teaching style”, whereby he pushes students past their breaking point to develop them as musicians. He relates to his students the apocryphal story of Jo Jones almost decapitating Charlie Parker with a cymbal he threw at him after he messed up at a performance. That in turn inspired Parker to practice and eventually become great, driven by both the glory of success and the threat of physical violence.
Miles Teller portrays Andrew Neyman to absolute perfection. The audience can simultaneously see his vulnerabilities as well as the fire Fletcher is kindling inside of him. He’s got a temper as well; one driven by passion and a family that’s largely unsupportive of him, sans his father (Paul Reiser). As Neyman grows as a musician, and is accepted into Fletcher’s renowned ensemble, he develops the courage to talk to the girl he likes, and they start dating (Spoilers: That doesn’t last long). However, as Fletcher puts Neyman under more and more pressure, and even finds a replacement drummer, Neyman’s rage shows itself. This culminates in Neyman tackling Fletcher on stage during a performance. It’s also worth nothing that while it is Teller playing the drums in each scene, he plays each song in pieces before master editors splice the bits together into the performances we see on screen.
Simmons brought a gripping performance as Mr. Fletcher, and is well deserved of his Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture. Damien Chazelle reportedly instructed Simmons to “go past what would be the normal limit”, and that he didn’t want to see a human being on screen, he wanted a monster, an animal. Simmons delivers on this big time, already providing one of the year’s best performances.
All musicians and fans of music should consider this film a must watch; the high praise it has received is spot on!